When looking at the past, it’s easy to see things through the filter of nostalgia- sometimes even if we’re looking at a time period when we weren’t alive. Surely I’ve been guilty of this myself.
Whether you explain this by “rose-colored glasses”, “grass is always greener” or some other idiom, saying, or metaphor, it’s rarely a true view of the past.
Take the newspaper at the top of this post. The Statesville Landmark of Thursday, May 29th, 1947.
We’re talking post war America in the rural south. The days when doors were left unlocked and there was new industry and promise, when people were returning home from war and starting families, buying cars and building houses. Truly golden years if you can believe the people who lived through them, and even some history text books.
But as we take a look at just the front page of this issue, things don’t seem so rosy. You have an article about an adult from the Scotts community going to prison for 30 years for shooting and killing a 15 year old.
An account of a still and 7500 gallons of illegal alcohol being discovered and destroyed.
A young war vet is sentenced for assault with a deadly weapon.
A 17 year old boy charged with the attempted rape of his 9 year old cousin.
Another adult man being sentenced to 30 years in prison for the shooting death of a woman.
20 married couples being divorced in the local court before 11am.
Keep in mind, these are just the front page stories.
It can be very easy to glorify and to idolize times we never knew or only remember as past. For whatever reason, humans seem hardwired to do it, even in cases where things weren’t really that good. You hear it from elderly family members all the time. People who lived hand to mouth and picked cotton in the hot sun until their hands were raw and bleeding will think upon those days and proclaim how wonderful they were.
However, it’s important to remember that history is nuanced, and the study of it should be as well. One man’s simple country childhood is another man’s Jim Crow south. The story of our families, our towns, and our nation is one of good and ill, warts and roses, victory and defeat, successes and mistakes.
It’s important we remember both the good and the bad, and especially the worst of it, so we learn from our failures and hopefully don’t continually repeat the same errors.